FringeReview UK 2017
In a tiny production with the volume turned up for satire; Oladipo Agboluaje’s New Nigerians premieres at the Arcola in its Revolution Season – a three-hander directed by Rosamunde Hutte. A breezily-coloured backdrop design byJemima Robinson is lit evenly by Richard Williamson. The whole’s interrupted by Chris Drohan’s sound, taking cues from songs Agboluaje’s suggests. Till March 11th.
Oladipo Agboluaje’s New Nigerians premieres at the Arcola in its Revolution Season – a three-hander directed by Rosamunde Hutte. It’s a tiny production with the volume turned up for satire; a breezily-coloured backdrop designer Jemima Robinson also applies to Hockney-bright chairs and a like kind of turquoise giant mosaic set, lit evenly by Richard Williamson. There are posters too: One nation: One Nigeria, tautologically pratfalling the protagonists before the audience can. But we’re all New Nigerians and this becomes clearer with a spectacularly apposite parallel in British union politics. The whole’s interrupted by Chris Drohan’s sound, taking cues from the songs Agboluaje’s suggests.
Patrice Naiambana plays the son of a great union leader who’s had Greatness thrust upon him, literally. His name propels him to create a People’s Revolutionary Party with an entrance of cheerful bombast proceeding for several pages, partly guying itself but in Naiambana’s superb baritonal instrument paradoxically signalling the enterprise’s nobility – with wisecracks. Greatness Ogholi at one point asks the audience to keep him from slipping from the ideals he sets out, most of which would find echoes in the anti-capitalist anti-Globalist left, were they to get a whiff of the power Ogholi is to be offered.
Ogholi‘s good angel running-mate Chinasa Umezurike is a study in displacement, smoking joints in vivid clothes when she feels the revolution mightn’t happen, likely to kill opposition politicians, stiffening Ogholi’s backbone in ‘building stomach infrastructure. A hungry revolutionary is a capitalist in waiting’. The play’s sprinkled with such pithily wise – and raucous – one-liners that alone could keep it alive. Gbemisola Ikumeio also plays Grace with a contrasting quiet dignity, Ogholi’s estranged wife; as well as a mute waitress. Each in turn assail the presidential hopeful with exhortations or reality checks. Grace has turned to Jesus bringing up their daughter as Ogholi seeks to realize his name.
It’s the characters Tunde Euba portrays who make us realize Ogholi has little hope of keeping his purity intact. Daniade Musa’s his nemesis, the strutting, wheedling right-wing politician forever cutting in with the enemy and swallowing them. He keeps returning till Ogholi sees virtue in compromising offers. And advisors Blair Consultancy are on hand.
As union leader Comrade Edoboar though Euba strikes hammers on thumbs, the history between them sings darkly. Edobar removed Ogholi’s father from the role he now fills. A pragmatist he reminds Ogholi why he did so. Ogholi’s fulfilling his father’s dreams can’t stretch to burying him in his chosen ground. Edobar’s members aren’t revolutionary: they want results just as Umezurike predicted and won’t side with the PRP. Corbyn’s Labour party with Copeland and not seemingly supporting union jobs in the nuclear industry furnish all the echoes one needs. The semi-reconciliations and final furious breakdown form the core fission of this play.
Its unravelement is often engagingly punctured by audience members in turn asked to hide some cannabis. It’s the banter of an unmeridianed campaigner who bids the audience chant and berates them for not reminding him of his ideals, and reinforces Naiambana’s tyro role. This play produces some of the most fascinating political material and arguments, though the Chibok girls with other real elements are sprinkled only as grit is, as well as tensions between different peoples with the ingredients for several dramas.
Nothing lasts however, and since this is satire, nothing’s meant to. Though clever use is later made of for instance the quip about airline fuel shortages, the play’s long on exposition but doesn’t put details to dramatic effect. We’re subjected to a voyage round Greatness who voyages around the audience in turn, where New Nigerians could have lost perhaps fifteen of its hundred minutes. Volte-faces, unexpected and in one character unconvincing, nevertheless gather themselves to a quiet, unexpected resolution.
As a snapshot of political compromise and impossibly contrary pressures African politicians encounter, it’s of the keenest interest. New Nigerians has more than might be guessed to tell the UK politically too. Drama, particularly satiric drama, needs more snap as well as bite, though Agboluaje’s characters are vivid, the cast uniformly excellent; and in one great scene they breathe fire.